As a reviewer, it would be easy to dread the prospect of another evening, spent in another small London theatre, watching another new piece of writing, performed by yet another troupe of recent acting school graduates. Occasionally however, a troupe gels so well that they actually convince audience members that they are a seasoned collective. Such was the case last evening.
Sam (Sam Weston) heads the group as a short roguish outsider who after a drunken night, has been invited to join 7 acting uni friends who share a grubby but expensive basement dwelling at usurious rates. It transpires that they've barely a quid to rub between them except for Nathan (Nathan Linsdell) the tall, handsome, slightly neurotic Jewish lad with father issues. From their prickly opening exchanges, Sam and Nathan spark off each other for most of the play - their polar opposite backgrounds and determination to assert alpha dominance feeding the antagonism. Everyone else - Jamie Parker, Garry Skimins, Angela Crispim, Clare Hawkins, Henry Holmes and Sophie Coulter - chip-in their often comic, dippy, blasé, manipulative, and frankly weird, studenty viewpoints, keeping the dialogue delivered at a steady and playful pace, much to the undoubted appreciation of audience members.
The writing is largely a tentative string sequence of one-liners, caustic rebuttals and tetchy-feely (see what I did there?) jokes about being zen whilst suppressing irritation and hopelessness at the lack of drive and career advancement. As a play, Andrew Muir (writer/director) hasn't produced anything approaching a masterpiece (in fact, structurally its all at sea), but that's not really the point. We're here to watch 8 actors inhabit their distinctly drawn characters and maintain them for an hour, which they do with considerable ease and a decent modicum of skill.
For this reviewer, the measure of the evening's success was two-fold: Firstly, was I entertained? To which the answer has to be a resounding yes. Secondly, Was there sufficient variety in the respective physicalities and delivery of the performers to offer any agent a reasonable prospect of snapping-up a new signing. This question could also be answered with a resounding affirmative.
As the programme blurb puts it:
Ardent8 is an ensemble of eight young actors selected to participate in the year-long Ardent Theatre Company programme to offer artistic support to recent graduates who have found it difficult to make the leap from the regions to London. Through various workshops with carefully selected practitioners, the ensemble is able to access opportunities within the industry they have otherwise found inaccessible, but which Ardent Theatre Company believes is no more than an equal opportunity. Following a workshop from which a new play is developed specifically for the ensemble, the programme culminates in a two-week residency in London when the company rehearse and perform the world première.